It’s not like I got amnesia when I become a mother, and yet I got lost in the translation of me as I journeyed into motherhood. I felt like a part of me died, and I guess it did, but it wasn’t the part that mattered (only I didn’t know it at the time). I yearned for the person I was: a person who was free to be creative, manage her own time, get it ALL done, and do it well. There was a huge pain-point associated with her loss.
I found myself living many of my days in a life that was not alone, yet they were filled with isolation. Somehow, because I moved into a new season in my life, I also stepped into a new identity disconnected from my old one. I’ve realized that this experience is just one of the many paradoxes of motherhood, and it’s just one of the many conversations that we need to have more honestly and freely when we discuss all that it is to be a mom.
As we transition through our life seasons, and especially motherhood, I found out just how vital it is to remember Y-O-U in the journey. But as many moms are busy trying to live up to their new role as caregivers for little ones and be ideal, they’re also chasing a new standard they don’t yet know. Here’s what I mean by that: when we set our ideal for what a mom should be, look like, do, accomplish, from how she chooses to educate her children to what’s for dinner tonight, where are we pulling this information from? Who dictates the stories of you? What’s ideal? Why?
Early in my journey, I found that the tracks I repeated over and over again in my head weren’t even from me, but rather from society and what I perceived to be ideal. I began comparing myself to other moms (and yes, judging), and I would seek guidance from standards set forth by the many contradicting (and often maddening) ‘experts’ who are so willing to advise on the right way to parent. But here’s the thing about our culture, it rarely provides space for anything less than ideal, and it leans towards the side of sacrifice. Think about it, no pain, no gain in the gym, deprivation from dieting, you need to work hard to achieve, the messages of sacrifice abound.
The cues from our culture and how it gets translated for mothers can be overwhelming. For instance, I believed that for me to be a good mother and to do the job right, there needed to be some degree of sacrifice in my work. I believed that the degree to which it was difficult was also the degree to which my job was done well. It’s crazy what we tell ourselves to be true, but there I was, trying to be everything while I was functioning under so much sacrifice (self-sacrifice), and the result was that I was never enough. Sound familiar?
In reality, by taking my cues for living from the outside world, I was only seeing one-sided near-perfect models that showcased just a part of the whole story of what it IS to be a mother. Because motherhood is filled with everything – deep feelings of joy and grief – connections and breakdowns – identity and loss, we even have moments of not liking the very children we love. We don’t need to hide any of this, nor do we need to believe it needs fixing (at least not always). Instead, we need to hold these very paradoxes side by side to create a safe space for acknowledging both sides before we can ever move forward in earnest.
If we’re going, to be honest with ourselves, if we’re going to live a life that’s filled with joy, gratitude, and a sense of fulfillment, we need to embrace the realities of real. That means giving ourselves permission to feel (really feel) and talk about the hard stuff, too. If there’s one thing this parenting journey has taught me for sure, it’s that it’s filled with paradoxes that shake you to the core, and it’s O.K.
The truth is, yes, we make sacrifices for our children, but that doesn’t mean that we need to lose ourselves in the sacrifice, too. After all, how can we help others if we can’t even help ourselves? I want to make the argument right now that if we do self-sacrifice as a matter of practice (because we think it’s the right thing to do) AND we are functioning with a less than a full tank, THAT is the act of selfishness, and here’s why:
Our responsibilities don’t change as mothers. We need to show up and do our jobs for our families and loved ones. It’s up to us how we want to show up in that role. Wouldn’t it be better if we showed up from a place of being fulfilled ourselves? With a sense of joy, sanity, and vitality? Or is it better to run yourself on empty and show up feeling depleted, lost, and sometimes angry? Our responsibilities don’t change, but how we view them, and how we feel about them, the energy we have, and the feelings our children receive from us WILL. Wouldn’t that be better? For everyone? It’s a win-win.
I have to thank my husband for kindly and lovingly gave me the memo on this very topic as he saved me from myself while I was blindly trying to be the wrong ideal.
I learned that to find Y-O-U in the journey is to remember who you were (still are) and nurture her. In other words, what filled your needs, desires, and dreams before children? I went back in time and examined my life. I asked, “What would your eight-year-old self be telling you right now to remember about her? Your eighteen-year-old self? The person you were before becoming a mother? Who was she? What motivated her and made her happy? What drove her desires, filled her up with joy, and made you Y-O-U?”
I distilled the essence of me down to a handful of core beliefs, and by doing this, I was able to create a space where I could live life from. In other words, I could step into the world from a place that originated from within me and reflected my values outward, rather than relying on cues from society and living from the outside cultural cues inward. I was no longer held hostage in my mind.
The result was that I stopped feeling guilty about putting my own needs on my to-do-list. I stopped comparing myself and my parenting style to others. I stopped judging (because we’re ALL trying to the right thing). These messages and more were received loud and clear when I started living from within me first. And yes, happy moms make for happy homes. It’s that simple. No shame or guilt from parenting overwhelms need ever enter that equation.
Here are two of the core beliefs that I wrote down for myself as a guideline for living:
- Relinquish your guilt. When you can relax in your parenting (and self) and know that it’s O.K. to be real, you’re free to express yourself openly. Then you can lead by example.
- Learn to lead instinctively. Trust that gut feeling and know where to set your limits. Keep things simple, nurturing, respectful, and with much gratitude, AND don’t accept that you’re wrong so readily.
Yes, I still have days when I’m grinding down to a nub – that’s life. What’s important is that now I know how to anchor myself firmly in this walk of motherhood and to refill my own cup when it’s emptying, and trust me, everyone wins.